A Walk To Remember: An Understanding
It may be considered ironic that the year in which Nicholas Sparks’ third novel is set and described with such nostalgia actually preceded the author’s birth by nearly a decade. Born on the last day of 1965, Sparks was a child of the revolutionary ’60s and ’70s—not of the ’50s. Unlike his main character, Landon Worth, Sparks had no firsthand account of life in 1950s Beaufort. Moreover, he was not raised a Baptist like Landon, but rather as a Roman Catholic.
Yet Sparks’ A Walk to Remember is a personal story. Set in small-town America in the coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina, it tells the story of wholesome young love framed by ideas of faith, loyalty, duty, death and redemption. While Sparks was born in Omaha, Nebraska, he first settled in the Carolinas after being transferred there during his stint as a pharmaceuticals salesman in 1993. His younger sister died seven years later at the age of 33, and her story and the story of the man who married her served (in conjunction with Sparks’ new setting) as the inspiration for the novel.
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Sparks penned the novel as a commemoration of both his sister and the man she married. The connection between the two, a connection of pure love (along with sacrifice, tenderness, appreciation, and charity), is what may be said to have prompted Sparks to set the novel in the nostalgic era of the 1950s, when such themes could resonate more clearly, more forcefully, and more naturally. Indeed, the era Sparks describes helps to frame the ideals that inspired Sparks to tell the story and root them in a way of life. Even though the inspiration for the tale came from events that occurred more closely in time to the present day, those events returned Sparks to an age when such ideals were viewed as essential aspects of living.
A Walk to Remember is written in a simple and direct style, one that could easily be called clichéd if it were not covered by its apparent innocence and lack of guile. The novel is candid about its objectives: It is a work of nostalgia, an appeal to an older time when decency, respect and honor were commonplace in small-town America. The novel does not dwell on the subject of the disappearance of simple virtues but acts, rather, as a reminder of how rewarding a life of simple virtue, honesty, care, and Christian living can be. The story is told from the perspective of an older man looking back on himself as a seventeen-year-old boy (and narrating from this younger voice), which allows the narrative to achieve a kind of authenticity that it might otherwise lack were it delivered wholly from the perspective of an outsider or from an omniscient third person.
Sparks has gone on to have a flourishing career writing novels in the romantic genre. As he himself insists, he is informed by his faith in God, the importance of love and understanding between people, and the fact that love itself is not only a reality but the highest reality in life. His numerous bestsellers indicate that Sparks is not alone in his belief. It appears, rather, that many readers appreciate the very same themes and ideals that he depicts in such works as A Walk to Remember.
Landon Carter comes from a wealthy family that is somewhat at odds with the family of Hegbert Sullivan, the local Baptist minister. Although Hegbert’s daughter Jamie is considered to be the nicest girl in all of Beaufort, Landon and his friends think she is odd since she behaves so dislike the typical teenage girl. She carries her Bible with her everywhere she goes, wears a brown cardigan and plaid skirt to school every day, and does not date boys.
Landon, on the other hand, is a typical teenage boy. He may even be a little lazier than most. He does not participate in any extracurricular activities. His sole recreation appears to be sneaking out at night to meet his friends in the cemetery or hanging out with classmates at Cecil’s Diner and eating hush puppies. His father is a congressman and almost always away, leaving Landon to be practically raised by his mother. Jamie’s mother died during childbirth, leaving Jamie to be raised solely by her father. Having only one parent around is just about the only thing the two young adults have in common.
However, it is not the only thing they have in common. They are both decent human beings at heart as well; it just takes Landon longer to realize this than Jamie. What sets this realization in motion is the combination of two factors: first, Landon’s mistaken belief that drama class is an easier and “safer” option than chemistry in his senior year, and second, Landon’s father’s decision that Landon run for student body president.
The drama class puts Landon in the presence of Jamie Sullivan, of whom he has always been aware but never really gotten to know. Becoming student body president forces him to find a date for homecoming. The only girl available, of course, is Jamie. That is how the two get to know one another. Jamie agrees to go to the dance with Landon one condition: that he promise not to fall in love with her. Landon takes it as a joke, but Jamie seems to know exactly what is going to happen between them.
Even though the dance is a disaster for a number of reasons, Landon reflects that Jamie was the perfect date considering the circumstances. After homecoming, however, Landon expects his life to go on as usual without Jamie being a part of it, but Jamie begins to make her presence felt, first by asking him to accept the lead role in the senior class play, and then by asking him to walk her home after practice every night. Landon begins to see a side of Jamie that he never saw before. He sees that she is always giving no matter what, and that she is also an ordinary teenager too, filled with doubts, fears, sorrow, and worry.
Yet Landon is bothered by his friends’ teasing, and he angrily tells Jamie that he does not want to be her friend. He immediately feels guilty for this episode and tries to make it up to her. He thinks he does so by going through with the play and helping it to be the most successful performance ever. Jamie, however, has other plans and is not willing to let him off the hook so easily. She asks him to collect all the jars she has set out across town to gather money for the orphanage. He does so, and even adds all he has to the amount, making the collection extra special. He begins to understand why Jamie helps people in need and begins to appreciate the great person she is. They exchange meaningful gifts on Christmas Eve, and it is then that Landon realizes he is in love with her.
They kiss for the first time the day after Christmas and spend the rest of Christmas break in each other’s presence. As Landon grows more attached to Jamie, she seems to be holding something back. Indeed, she has a secret. She is dying of leukemia. That is why she did not want Landon to fall in love with her. Yet it is too late. They love one another.
Jamie’s secret is announced to the town, and everyone begins to realize the rare person that she is. They all come out to support her as her health fails. She stops going to school. Landon is by her bedside every day. Finally, he realizes that he wants to marry her. She has always dreamed of being married and having the church filled with everyone she knew. Even though he is making her dream come true, Landon is not doing so for her but rather for himself: He loves her so much that he just has to express it.
Jamie’s father walks her down the aisle even though she is sick and can barely stand. It is a walk that Landon remembers for the rest of his life, and one that fills him with pride. They are married, and it is the happiest moment of Landon’s life. He ends the narrative on this note, adding only that miracles do happen, suggesting that perhaps his prayers for Jamie’s life were answered.
Landon Carter—Landon is the main character of the novel, narrating a story that took place in 1958. He is a decent young man whose life changed when he was 17.
Hegbert Sullivan—He is the old Southern Baptist minister who writes the annual Christmas play for the town.
Worth Carter—Landon’s father, he is a very popular congressman, somewhat at odds with Hegbert, who used to work for Worth’s notoriously corrupt father.
Landon’s mother—Although her name is never told, Landon’s mother actually plays a significant role in his life. She encourages Landon to take Jamie somewhere special to show her how he feels. She is very affectionate toward Jamie and is a good mother to Landon.
Jamie Sullivan—Hegbert’s daughter, she is his only child and is dissimilar from the other girls: She dresses plainly, is always cheerful and very giving of her time, and carries the Bible with her everywhere she goes. Her mother died during childbirth.
Jamie’s mother—Although Jamie’s mother is dead, she still plays (like Landon’s mother) a significant role in her daughter’s life. Jamie is attached to her mother’s memory and wants to be the same kind of good woman her mother was.
Miss Garber—She is the drama teacher. She is a large, older, overweight woman.
Eric Hunter—He is Landon’s best friend, the star quarterback, and the most popular boy in school.
Margaret Hays—She is Eric’s girlfriend and the head cheerleader of the school. Her best attribute, according to Landon, is her legs.
Mr. Jenkins—He is the director of the orphanage and an old friend of Jamie’s.
Carey Dennison—Carey is elected as student body treasurer. He never stops asking questions about things and is the most annoying person in town.
Angela—Landon’s ex-girlfriend, she gets sick at homecoming and is taken home by Landon and Jamie.
Lew—Angela’s new boyfriend, he tries to pick a fight with Landon at homecoming but is pacified by Jamie.